Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The classic tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s redemption from heartless miser to generous philanthropist is a holiday staple. It’s affected culture so much that the word “Scrooge” is synonymous with a greedy or cold person—or one who just doesn’t like Christmas.
There are many reasons given in the story why Scrooge doesn’t like Christmas, but a big one is that he just can’t understand why people would voluntarily give away their money, time, or even kindness to help other people. His one employee, Bob Cratchit, has a salary barely high enough to make up for Scrooge’s tightfisted disdain.
When a pair of gentlemen come to Scrooge’s office asking for donations to help the poor, Scrooge points to the money taken from him by the government: “Are there no prisons?…And the Union workhouses?…I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.” Unfortunately, this does little to help the poor—the gentlemen protest that “Many can’t go there, and many would rather die.” And it’s even more obvious from Scrooge’s cold, unfeeling demeanor that he gets nothing at all from “helping” the poor in this way.
On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Marley, as well as three Christmas Spirits. Marley, who lived his life much as Scrooge does, is still bound by the chains of his greed, tormented by how he could have helped his fellow men. The Spirit of Christmas Past shows Scrooge how he used to care and have compassion for others, until he let the cares of the world set his heart like concrete.
The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around the earth, viewing the happiness made possible even in the midst of poverty by caring for others. His heart softening, Scrooge is distraught at the sight of the sufferers, and asks if there is nobody to help them. “Are there no prisons?” the Spirit replies cuttingly. “Are there no workhouses?” Stricken by his own callousness in using the government as an excuse not to care, Scrooge finds himself before the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him the dark, lonely life (and death) that await him—if his life continues unchanged.
But Scrooge has truly seen the light. He bursts from his house on Christmas morning like a ray of sunshine, spreading cheer where before he only brought gloom. No longer content to rely on the government to use money taken by taxation to help the poor, he begins a voluntary giving spree. He sees the gentlemen from the previous day and provides a donation so generous that they are shocked. When he next sees Cratchit, Scrooge is as munificent as he was miserly: “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family…”
The narrator records: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…” Notably, Scrooge’s change of heart did not cause him to advocate for more taxes or welfare programs, but to voluntarily reach out to those around him. By doing so, he affected their lives for the better in ways the government programs never could, and they in turn enriched his life in ways he never imagined.
The book refers to this as “keeping Christmas,” but voluntary giving does not have to be limited to a certain season. As Scrooge said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” And you don’t have to be Christian—or religious at all—to feel the kindness and compassion that Scrooge felt in his heart, and use that to voluntarily bring light and hope to others.
“May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”